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Low values prompt reval delay

Real estate prices have taken such a drastic plunge in Macon and Jackson counties — which once boasted the highest concentration of mega-developments catering to the high-end second home market — that county commissioners there keep postponing the countywide property revaluation.

Counties must reappraise the value of every home, lot and tract of land at least every eight years. The values in turn determine how much people pay in property taxes. The values have declined so much, however, that commissioners dread what a countywide revaluation will do to their property tax base.

In particular, high-end homes and lots have seen the biggest decline.

“Where you had the big drop was the high end and speculative stuff. That market has crashed,” said Richard Lightner, Macon County’s tax assessor. “The demand has shrunk and the supply has gone up dramatically — so it’s basic economics.”

Meanwhile, median-priced homes have held their value compared to the boom-and-bust seen at the upper end.

As upper-end property comes down off its highs, they will no longer shoulder the huge share of property tax burden they once did.

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“The burden would shift to the common everyday worker,” Lightner said. “The people who would be hurt by that is the locals and the people trying to live here and make a living.”

Thanks to its volume of high-end luxury properties, Macon and Jackson counties have long enjoyed some of the lowest property tax rates in the state. All those expensive homes and lots on the tax rolls allow the county to keep the property tax rate low for the masses.

But that is bound to change, and is one reason the counties have postponed their revaluations. Macon will wait the maximum eight years until 2015. Jackson has postponed its revaluation until next year.

In a way, that’s sending a message to the out-of-town real estate investors that the county is knowingly milking them to pay property taxes on inflated values that are no longer accurate. But going forward with a reval is seen as even less palatable.

“The people who would be hurt by that is the locals and the people trying to live here and make a living,” Lightner said. “The tax burden would shift to the common, everyday worker.”

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